Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trains, HOT Lanes, Ferries and Tunnels: Honolulu Has Many Alternatives and Very Few Billions

I was very pleased to accept an invitation to speak at one of the nation's best public colleges, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA.) My presentation to their prestigious School of Public Affairs was on Trains, HOT Lanes, Ferries and Tunnels: Honolulu Has Many Alternatives and Very Few Billions.

The hour-long presentation was well received and the audience was surprised that such a disproportionally large and expensive system is planned for our city. They were disappointed that a huge amount of public funds are being spent for a project with low benefits. They were rather astounded by the apathy of the public in accepting such a megaproject for our small island.

The audience of professors and students in urban planning and public policy were generally in favor of transit, but transit needs to be selected and sized properly. The proposed transit for Honolulu fails any proportionality comparison. Projects like Honolulu's and San Juan's (heavy rail in island communities) give transit projects a bad name.

It is no coincidence that the same consultant (Parsons Brinkerhoff), for the same city (Honolulu) with a difference of six years (2000 versus 2006) concluded that a Bus Rapid Transit system will be far cheaper and will generate a higher transit ridership than rail. To avoid this comparison, BRT was not included in the 2006 Alternatives Analysis where rail was proclaimed the Locally Preferred Alternative.

The same analysis dismissed Light Rail and the Pearl Harbor Tunnel withing a few introductory paragraphs with no analysis whatsoever. HOT lanes were designed as a silly pipeline with no on- and off-ramps. Worse yet, they added 2 lanes and they took away the zipper lane, for a net gain of one lane. That one lane alone was only a hair inferior to the rail that was selected as the "winner."

HOT lanes is natural partner for BRT and Express Buses. Reversible HOT Lanes like Tampa's should be priority number one for our Waianae/Kapolei/Ewa/Mililani traffic to/from town. It is only about 10-miles from the H-1 and H-2 merge to downtown. Recall that in 2007 Tampa completed 10 miles of 3-lane reversible elevated road for a total of $320 million. Mufi Hannemann will spend over $300 million for rail paperwork and promotion alone. About $50 million from the feds. All the rest from our pockets. For paperwork, and smoke-and-mirrors shows and commercials.

  • I only spent 24 hours in LA but it was a treat to cross paths and shake hands with past Massachusetts governor, presidential candidate, UH lecturer and now UCLA professor Michael Dukakis.
  • Air traffic shows that the economy has not recovered. LAX was rather uncrowded, inside the airport and outside on the roads. My return flight to Honolulu was less than two thirds full.
  • Traffic lights work very well in Los Angeles thanks to their advanced management center (ATSAC) and smart allocation of lanes for left and right turns. All major boulevards were flowing uncongested in the middle of the pau hana rush hour!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Who is Dependent on Cars? Mass Transit!

Ed Braddy of New Geography provides some clear explanations that without cars mass transit goes broke!

The quote below provides a quick summary, but the full article is very informative.

Yet in pursuing this transit-friendly future political leaders rarely confront this inescapable reality: public transportation is fiscally unsustainable and utterly dependent on the very car-drivers transit boosters so often excoriate. For example, a major source of funding for transit comes from taxes paid by motorists, which include principally fuel taxes but also sales taxes, registration fees and transportation grants. The amount of tax diversion varies from place to place, but whether the metro region is small or large the subsidies are significant.

Read it here: Who is Dependent on Cars? Mass Transit!

The passage below is a reality comparison between roads and transit--what is fiscally sustainable and what is not:

Many policy makers fail to focus on developing a fiscally sustainable plan for public transit. They miss the fundamental problem that anything heavily subsidized –particularly in a period of budget cuts– is unsustainable. Roads are subsidized at about a half-penny per passenger mile; transit subsidies are 100 times higher.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Panos Prevedouros on the Rick Hamada Program

For nearly three years now and on 40 or so Mondays per year I join political columnist and radio host Richard Hamada, III on KHVH 830 AM The Rick Hamada Program for a humorous, interesting and if I may say so, insightful, discussion on Honolulu city's issues and challenges relating to traffic and infrastructure, as well as on cost-effective ideas to mitigate these problems.

Here is a sample of the first four shows in 2010. Visit HonoluluTownPodcast.Com for more, including the "dark side", that is, Mayor Mufi's rail propaganda on the Mike Buck Show on KHVH.

They lied about the ridership, they lied about the costs, so why wouldn’t they lie about the jobs?

Randall O'Toole's blog provides this sobering insight in Rail Jobs Overestimated.

Randall also predicted Honolulu's likely predicament with rail by analyzing the extension of a heavy rail line in Washington, D.C. in $6 Billion Down the Drain

The interesting thing is that the motivation and conclusion are the same for Washington and Honolulu!
So taxpayers are on the hook for spending at least $5.2 billion — more likely $6 billion or more — for a rail line designed solely to benefit a few property owners and developers. But, as it turns out, even they won’t benefit from it.

Because rail is the 5% solution... 5% will use it, the remainder 95% will be stuck in horrendous congestion. And with more potholes and lane closures from water main breaks because the city's budget will be broke.

Is that a legacy worth leaving to our children?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Honolulu Rail's Cost, Route and Ridership Opinions

President's Day 2010 brought a lot of interesting perspectives on the table for Honolulu's $5.3 billion proposed elevated rail line. None of them favorable.

Dr. Kioni Dudley of Makakilo offers his perspective about the proposed rail in the Honolulu Star Bulletin. These sentences from his article are particularly insightful:
  • This rail is not being built to solve current traffic problems. It actually is not even for us. It is being built to benefit developers.
  • The traffic problems it will solve are future problems, yet to be caused by people yet to move into homes yet to be built.
Cliff Slater of covers the costs of the proposed rail in his article published in the Honolulu Advertiser. "The city's rail project is not merely the largest public works project in Hawai'i. It will be the fourth most expensive of any post-1950 metro area rail system in the nation, exceeded only by Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles."

The article is great, but why should anyone read past its opening paragraph? Stop the insanity! should be the response. The fourth most expensive system in the US, proposed for an island paradise in the middle of the Pacific, with less than one million people. The governor should stop this grave error and refuse any approvals for it.

Finally Shawn Hao of the Honolulu Advertiser uses soft language but reveals other parts of the insanity in yet another well-researched article.
  • The benefit of the proposed rail: "Honolulu's planned rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana is expected to boost public transit use by about 1 percentage point by offering faster, more reliable service than buses." [Would you pay five billion to receive a 1% reduction? Follow Mufi and you will.]
  • The dropping ridership of TheBus. [I have plotted the statistics that Hao quotes from the Hawaii Data Book below. Transit ridership is on a steady downhill. But we keep buying more buses...]
  • The City's attitude: "We don't care what the Mainland is doing," Honolulu Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka said.
Ainokea is right Mr. Yioshioka.

For the record, I see the numbers and Aikea.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

FTA Will Pay for Honolulu's Rail... Maybe 25% of Cost ... in 2011

FTA commits $1.55 billion to pay for Honolulu rail system says today's breaking news (

That sounds like such good news for Hannemann but it is not. The article says that IF all environmental reviews complete successfully, then FTA may be able to release construction money on or after September 30, 2011.

Note that there is no word on possible lawsuits against the FTA and the delays that they will cause. sued the FTA in 2002 and achieved the impossible: FTA pulled the plug by rescinding the Record on Decision for Mayor Harris' Bus Rapid Transit proposal.

Also if you try to read between the lines, you will discover these two gems of truth:
  • "But please know that the FTA also takes an independent look at the finances of this project and we will do so again when they submit a financial plan to get into final design."
  • Groundbreaking on the elevated commuter rail was supposed to take place in December, but has been indefinitely delayed by an ongoing federal review...
Now this "good news" came out today from the President's budget which will be taken apart by Congress in the coming months, much like his health care bill. The funding for Mufi's rail may survive, or may not. This is a "make work" bridge-to-nowhere project and the fiscal outlook for it is bleak.

The guestimate I made yesterday that this project may start on 12/12/12 stands!

And in case you did not notice, the FTA subsidy will cover roughly only 25% of the budgeted cost, but with minor cost overruns the cost to the local taxpayer will be $4.5 billion, or $4,500 million. Furthermore, the imported rail equipment will cost more than the FTA contribution. So all of the FTA money will go to mainland, Canada, German or Korean suppliers. No FTA money will reach Oahu.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rail Jobs? Apply Now for 12/12/12

Let's talk about the much touted "rail jobs."

Although public project construction jobs are only a small part of Oahu's economy, politicians and some union heads are literally shouting that we need the rail for the jobs that it provides to save Oahu from its economic slump.

First, much more than half of the planning and design work for the rail is done by outside professionals. Local engineers do not know how to do rail. Second, Kiewit Corporation of Omaha, Nebraska was selected to build the first segment (if and when construction can start legally.) Third, a lot of the technical work for rail requires expertise that our local laborers do not have. Fourth, a big part of the rail is the imported technology which will be shipped in and then assembled by outside experts. For these and other reasons the local jobs number will be much smaller than what politicians announce for popular consumption.

The next question is timing. Mufi and rail advocates are (again) shouting that jobs are needed now and rail should start now. Can rail construction start now? The answer is No. Here is why.

The Programmatic Agreement (PA) under Section 106 that addresses cultural and historical impacts has not been signed by all parties.

Regarding the PA process I heard this: "Faith Miyamoto representing the city has been picky as to which party to involve and has told affected parties that they are not participants in the PA." Actions like this endanger the conclusion of the PA process.

The Final EIS cannot be released before the PA concludes satisfactorily.

The judges of the federal court along Halekauwila Street do not want trains going by their building, yet no realignment has been proposed.

The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned that the transit corridor is too close to active runways that process millions of passengers every year. An alternative alignment would be required to satisfy their concerns but the city has not provided a realignment.

Let's now make a big assumption that concerns like the above, plus concerns about the budget are sorted out within months. Then these are the steps that city needs to complete:

1) Issue a Final EIS (with acceptable solutions to all major concerns)
2) Final review by the affected State Departments
3) Approval by the Governor
4) Review by the FTA and approval
5) FTA issuance of a Record on Decision
6) FTA issuance of a Letter of No Prejudice
7) FTA provides first installment of federal funds (Full Funding Grant Agreement)

The above process requires one full year to conclude (assuming that Governor Lingle will eventually approve the FEIS) and over two years to receive construction funds from the federal government. Of course a reckless mayor can start construction with no agreement with the FTA and realize later that FTA can deliver much less than what's in the budget.

The lesson here is that if you like rail, for the sake of your finances and of the generations to come, do not elect a mayor who does not promise that rail work will start after the full funding grant agreement has been signed by the feds. Hannemann wants to start with no federal funds.

Hannemann is wrong on at least four counts:
(1) He proposes rail as a traffic solution. Wrong.
(2) He proposes to build rail in a very expensive way. All-elevated heavy rail. Wrong.
(3) He plans to start rail in the middle of prime agricultural land. Wrong.
(4) He plans to start construction without federal funds. Wrong.

Meanwhile, as of January 2010, President Obama has frozen the spending of all departments due to the immense federal deficit. At the same time, there is no budget allocation anywhere for Honolulu's transit. Actually finding big money for it will be much harder than the local political rhetoric indicates.

The above schedule does not take into account delays from lawsuits. At least one lawsuit has been promised. Other federal departments may object to FTA's approval, thus more delays and injunctions are possible.

It does not matter what Hannemann or any politician or city representative says. Without completing the steps required by federal law, there will be no approval and no construction or on-the-ground preparation for construction.

I have a guestimate of a start date for those who remain optimistic about Mufi's rail actually going into construction: 12/12/12. That's less than three years away and about normal for projects of this nature and size.

How can we summarize the original question about jobs and rail? Too little too late.